Marine Le Pen with her letters from the banks

Le Pen challenges banks after account closures

International banking giants HSBC and Societe Generale are being taken to court by France's far-right National Front (FN) leader Marine le Pen. She has accused them of discrimination after they closed her accounts.

The defeated candidate in France's presidential elections in May, Marine Le Pen, told a press conference on Wednesday she believed her FN party had been deliberately cut off from financing as part of a "banking fatwa" against the far-right.

"After being the victim of massive judicial persecution, we are witnessing a new stage in the persecution of the National Front — banishment from banking," she said at a press conference in Nanterre, calling on President Emmanuel Macron and other political parties to back the FN over her claim.

Le Pen said she would take HSBC and Societe Generale to court for discrimination after they moved to close her personal and party accounts.

The French parliament earlier this month stripped Le Pen of her immunity from prosecution over the tweets she sent with images of terrorist violence. She is also facing charges over misuse of European Parliament funds

Marine Le Pen at the European Parliament in 2016
Marine Le Pen at the European Parliament in 2016Image: picture alliance/CITYPRESS 24/Cegarra

French bank Societe Generale

The FN party has been asked by Societe Generale, France's third-largest bank by total assets, to close its accounts. In a statement, the bank said its decisions to open or close an account depended "purely on banking reasons" and "without taking into account any political consideration." The FN had held an account with the bank for 30 years, according to Le Pen.

Le Pen said the decision of the French bank was "depriving a party that won 11 million votes in the last presidential election of all practical ability to function." 

"We are witnessing an attempt by the opposition to suffocate us," Le Pen said, claiming the decision was politically motivated.

British bank HSBC

The French head of HSBC Thomas Vandeville called Le Pen to tell her that her personal account was being shut "without any justification" she claimed.

British multinational HSBC is the world's seventh largest bank by total assets and Le Pen said she had had an account with the bank for 25 years. She said the bank had "driven me out." Le Pen was a client with the Hervet bank until its take over by an HSBC subsidiary in 2001.

Funding problems for the FN

The FN was refused loans by both French and foreign banks during the election campaign, according to Le Pen. The party spent a reported €12.5 million euros ($14.7 million) on the presidential campaign and party members have since been asked via an online campaign to directly lend it money.

FN party founder and Le Pen's father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, said in June that the party had funded its campaigns thanks to €9 million he had lent via his Cotelec financing company. In 2015, the French investigative news site Mediapart reported that Jean-Marie Le Pen was being investigated for possible fiscal fraud over €2.2 million placed in a trust with the Swiss branch of HSBC.

In 2014, the FN borrowed €9 million from a Russian bank. This raised questions over a possible Russian influence over the party. 

jm/kms (AFP, Reuters)